Rags to Riches

The cure. That’s the ultimate rags-to-riches story for people with diabetes.

The cure.

That’s the ultimate rags-to-riches story for people with diabetes and their loved ones.

Somehow. Somewhere. There’s that thing that will right the wrong of a faulty pancreas. Just fix that and you will have that one thing that people say really matters: your health. After all, you don’t have anything if you don’t have your health.

But there is no cure.

Right now there are experimental treatments and proof-of-concept devices. Transplants. Stem cells. An artificial pancreas. Steps in the right direction—we think. But, so far, no permanent fix.

So what are the rags-to-riches stories told by people by diabetes?

They mostly involve getting access to a medical device and getting the insurance company to pay for it. Most often it’s a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) or a pump. Devices that promise to make managing blood glucose easier, more accurate, more effective—more like a well-functioning pancreas.

But after the honeymoon, the reality sets in. These devices are one more thing to manage. These devices are not perfect. These devices are not a cure.


 

Rags to Riches is one of the seven basic plots identified by Christopher Booker in his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. This week I am looking at life with diabetes through the prism of these seven basic plots.

 


 

Overcoming the Monster

Overcoming the monster. This is the story I think we’d all, whether living with diabetes or not, like to tell.

This is the story I think we’d all, whether living with diabetes or not, like to tell.

Triumph over adversity. Victory in the face of defeat. Thriving in spite of illness.

This is the story many of us fear we won’t be able to tell. That big, bad, dark monster is just too strong. Try as we might we cannot control it. We might not even be able to manage life with it very well. We don’t have the power or the skill. Too much is unknown. Too much is variable. Ultimately, we all will die, whether it’s attributed to diabetes or not.

Trying to live this story can be very painful because along with triumph and victory we think we need perfection. Life with diabetes is anything but perfect. Out of this pain sprouts frustration. Then the question becomes who or what do we aim that frustration at? The doctor? The disease? Ourselves?


Overcoming the Monster is one of the seven basic plots identified by Christopher Booker in his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. This week I am looking at life with diabetes through the prism of these seven basic plots.


 

“We Are the Stories We Tell Ourselves”

There are many aspects to a story. What we should look for is the harmony between the aspects and not a resolution.

I was intrigued by the title of this TED Talk. “We are the stories we tell ourselves.”

It didn’t turn out to be what I expected. It’s mostly about how the speaker thinks about the stories he tells as a movie director. Two things stayed with me.

First, there are many levels to a story. You can look at the plot. Or you can look the psychological aspect of the story. Or the political aspect. Or the mythological aspect. A story is like a multifaceted gem. Each aspect reveals something different.

The same is true of life with diabetes. Something happens (the plot). It could be a diagnosis, a “good” day or a “bad” day, reaching a goal or failing to. We make sense of these events by the aspect(s) that we focus on at any given moment. Do we focus on our feelings about the event? Or the reasoning behind the action we take in response?

The aspects of a single story can be contradictory. A “good” day with diabetes can leave me feeling sad in the end when I realize that there’s no guarantee any other day will turn out the same. A “bad” day can make me determined and motivated to more consciously manage my health habits.

Second, what we should focus on is the harmony between the various aspects of the story–NOT the resolution of the story. Resolutions are limited. There is no happily ever after in diabetes. There is only tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. By focusing on the bigger, infinite issues we can go on and not be driven to an end point.


Ted Talk “We Are the Stories We Tell Ourselves” – Shekhar Kapur

Diabetes in the movies…

A lot of people only know about diabetes from the movies.

A lot of people only know about diabetes from the movies.

Julia Roberts’ character in Steel Magnolia gets mentioned often. The tragic young diabetic bride who dies giving birth.

But it’s Robert De Niro’s portrayal of William Joseph (“Wild Bill”) Donovan in The Good Shepard that sticks with me. Here’s a powerful man, he ran the OSS during World War II, being literally cut down by diabetes. He suffers amputations during the movie and characterizes diabetes as “undignified.”

That this disease not only preys on the weak but can also take down the mighty is truly terrifying.

Stigma…

Stigma, it’s made up of a million microaggressions.

Stigma is a word that comes up time and again when people living with diabetes talk about their lives. Like a glucose meter or glucose tabs, stigma is a constant companion.

Sometimes it gets stated in small, subtle ways. They say things like “Do you have the easy kind of diabetes?”

Sometimes it shows up as false concern or empathy. “Can you eat that?” When what they really mean is “You shouldn’t be eating that.”

Sometimes it’s a flat out judgement. “You shouldn’t have eaten all those donuts for all those years.”

Ultimately all these kind of statements are microaggressions. And honestly most people don’t even realize they are making stigmatizing statements. So what’s the big deal? Why can’t people just shake it off?

Why can’t I just shake it off?

Because the comments add up. It’s constantly being told “I’m wrong.” “I’m broken.” “I’m a failure.” It’s exhausting. It undermines my self-confidence. And it isolates me as someone less worthy.

Stigma, it’s all around me and most people don’t even see it.